Daniel Greenwood

The language of leaves

Posts from the ‘Photography’ category

SLF - 13-6-2019 djg-6

St. Leonard’s Forest, Sussex Weald, June 2019

Gentle rain falls as dog walkers share tales in the car park. Squirrels saved from their pet’s jaws giving thanks with a bite of their own. Birdsong swells from the understorey, perhaps five song thrush sing to sure up territories. Either side of the track is a wall of green, from the shrubs to the canopy of oak, birch and beech.

There is a feeling of a deeply wooded landscape here, the continuity of the Weald stretching away east to Kent. Of course it has now been broken, so many times, but there is a sense of the wilderness that faced the Romans and later the Saxons upon their respective invasions of Britain. It is thought St. Leonard’s Forest was part of a wooded landscape that stretched all the way to the New Forest, as recently as a thousand years ago.

The rain has drawn me out here. It is such a relief that this June is one of mini-monsoons, compared to last year’s heatwave hell. The nearby South Downs were rendered brown for months. At the side of the path, under the darkness of a beech, mushrooms glow. They sprout peach-coloured, or maybe apricots on sticks, from a tree stump. They are sulphur tuft, one of the most common species but very photogenic.

SLF - 13-6-2019 djg-3

Further into the forest chiffchaff sing from the pines, a distant willow warbler’s melody decaying in the darkening evening air. There is a scale to this landscape that feels expansive. Woods challenge our human senses of depth and time. Moving along the footpaths the woodland shifts from clay where beech and oak prevail, to the pine and birch dominated sands where heathland once was kept open by local people expressing their rights of common.

Down a track through birch and holly a single flute-like note comes from the trees above my head: a bullfinch. It calls over and again. It’s a beautiful sound.

Returning round through dark areas of oaks and veteran beeches, I find a small toadstool uprooted at the edge of the footpath. It’s an amanita of some kind, a ring around its neck like Shakespeare or a ruff, patches of white webbing still on its grey-brown cap. Amanitas are a fearful family of mushrooms, being home to the deathcap and destroying angel, to name but the most potent. But I’m not here to eat these marvels of nature, so I take my photos, capturing memories to take back to the town, to ease the sense of dislocation from this ancient wooded landscape, its bullfinches and mushrooms.

Explore the Sussex Weald

Leave a comment

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-1

Cuckfield, West Sussex, May 2019

With some hours of Bank Holiday Monday to spare, we drove to Cuckfield in West Sussex. Pronounced ‘Cook-field’, it gets its name from the cuckoo.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-4

The chuchyard in Cuckfield is vast. A country walk in Sussex is never complete without a visit to at least one church (which, if it’s old enough, usually has an ancient yew tree next to the building). Entering it from village streets dominated by a cedar of Lebanon, it spreads over the gentle crest of a hill, the South Downs rolling along in the distance. On that evening, they were so green and clear they seemed within arm’s length.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-43.jpg

The South Downs beyond the spread of Wealden woodland, from Cuckfield Park

Entering into a church I am always struck by the smell, like an antique shop. There is cool and a sudden stillness. The small churches of English villages hold the scars of our history often with lists of names of people killed in the First World War, or sometimes with gruesome histories stitched into tapestries. Most of them are not actually English but Norman (1066). The yew trees in their grounds often date to pre-Saxon times (500AD), even before Christianity was dominant in Britain.

img_20190506_163456353.jpg

In the church a tapestry of a tree held symbols of the village. Perched on a branch was a cuckoo with its sharp bill and grey head.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 hi-res-2

No cuckoos sang in the churchyard and no yew tree had lived long enough to recall Pagan Britain, but a castle of a giant sequoia grew amongst the graves.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-5

We walked for four miles into the woods and fields that edged the village. Great veteran oaks sat on field margins, quintessential Wealden scenes of sprawling boughs and hefty trunks with woodland on one side and an open field on the other.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-50

I spend a lot of time traveling by car between the Weald and the South Downs. From the corner of my eye I can tell when the Downs are done and the Weald has returned. It’s a case of oaks sitting in hedgerows of neatly set fields. Looking at a map of the Weald, these fields are glades carved out of the ancient woodland that once cloaked the entire area between the North and South Downs. No, it probably was not wall-to-wall woodland (as people say), but its openness was more rugged and less formal. Less civilised. It’s not all oaks in fields, however. Here a Scots pine stood in a private field, framed by the woodland footpath we were taking and the rounds of hay rolled up against the fenceline.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-30.jpg

As is the way in the Weald, the most spectacular trees are the oaks like this one here. At the edge of a field this oak has lived without woodland close by for probably over 500 years.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-34.jpg

As with so many oaks like this one, as they age they begin to tell a tale of all they have survived. The boles, knobbles and scars, the direction of the boughs and their sprawl.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-17.jpg

In the plentiful chunks of remnant ancient woodland, the oaks are smaller and white with algae. The latter is a measure of better air quality, of less chemical pollution from farming. They are smaller because they have to put up with competition from other trees. In May their toes are decorated with spreads of red campion, stitchwort and yellow archangel.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-15.jpg

To see these flowers in this state is one of the moments of the year. It takes the breath away. It is a measure of what we have lost in Britain (mainly between 1960-1990) to our brutal, thoughtless treatment of the landscape.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-21.jpg

Bluebells were at their crispy peak. I love them in the evening, all that frames them: the light coming through the new green leaves of trees at the field’s edge, a silhouetted oak trunk and the faintest of light reaching those curling petals.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-41.jpg

Not all of the trees in the woods make sense. Walking down a lane as we looped back to Cuckfield I noticed this ogre of a beech tree sat on a wood bank. Was it an old hedgerow tree? The trees around it were young, bluebells spread around its buttresses. Perhaps it was in a more open landscape that had now become closed. It showed signs of severe cutting, that is what had given it the look of an octopus.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-48.jpg

Passing through Cuckfield Park on the return to the village, the bright yellow and orange of chicken of the woods broke the lowering evening light. Growing from the felled trunk of an old oak at the edge of wood and field, it spread through barbed wire and even goosegrass, a sign of how quickly it was growing. This is a sign of spring turning towards summer and even, like the fox’s bark in January, the first sign of autumn. Seasons are not set things, their threads reach out far beyond the timescales in which we define them.

Cuckfield - 6-5-2019 jpeg-52.jpg

A quick up and over through gill woodland, so typical of the High Weald with its alders and snaking stream, we found the churchspire peeking out from a horse chestnut in flower. Here a queen bumblebee took the last of her nectar for the evening on flowers that appear almost as orchids up close.

View my Wealden archive

Leave a comment

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-4

The Sussex Weald, West Sussex, April 2019

I visited a small woodland in the Sussex Weald after work to make the most of a break in the showers. My aim was to catch the bluebells in the early evening light when I think they look best. The forecast was for cloud but it was windy enough for some sunlight to break through. This woodland is coppiced and was where I photographed the wood anemones last month. It is the bluest bluebell woodland I’ve ever seen. My friend always tells me, ‘no, it’s purple!’. He’s right.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-70

Bluebells are a huge draw for anyone who has a camera (so that’s everyone). It’s part of the traditional spring experience to go to a bluebell wood, in most places that still have them. That’s something that shouldn’t be taken for granted, ancient woodlands like those in the Sussex Weald are being lost, despite the fact that they are irreplaceable habitats. Their species diversity has evolved over thousands of years. At a coppiced wood like this, their ecosystems have coalesced with our management of them for wood products. The oak above might be a coppice, but it could also be three oak saplings fused together.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-94

Something felt quite gentle and warming about this oak plugged in amongst bluebells. Perhaps it’s the slight lean, it’s almost an invitation to pass by. The mental and physical benefits of spending time in woodland are great.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-77

I’ve noticed the flush of new green oak leaves and how quickly that freshness is lost to the stiff darker shade.

Nymans - 20-4-2019 djg-6

Take these two oaks in the High Weald from a week earlier. Their new green is incredibly fresh but will now have darkened. You have to enjoy every moment of spring before it goes.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-37

Back to the wildflowers. Before visiting the wood I spoke to a colleague whose job it is to survey woods. He said he’d seen very few early purple orchids this year, possibly due to the colder than average January and then sudden heatwave in February. I said I would report back on my findings. I discovered a patch of about 10 flowering on the wood’s edge with plenty of other spotted leaves yet to produce flowers. I had seen them in the same patch a couple of years ago so knew where to go.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-32

I find orchids that grow in woods to be twice as exciting as those out in the open landscape. It’s a personal thing, because the diversity is far greater out there. There’s something about woodland versions of other species, birds or butterflies for example. There is something so interesting about the fact some species have made a niche for themselves in certain types of woodland only. Don’t get me started on firecrests. It’s even more interesting when these species, especially the wildflowers, escape out into the surrounding landscape.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-122

It’s not possible for the flowers to do much of that in this slither of the Sussex Weald because it’s surrounded by a monoculture of oilseed rape. On the contrary the farm is making its way into the woodland through the run off of fertiliser and water being piped in. You can see where the wildflowers are being pushed further into the woodland, away from the polluted areas. It’s something happening to almost every small woodland in England in one way or another.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-17

Photographing the orchids was tricky because it was windy, dull and the plants were small. I used a telephoto lens and tried to maximise the bokeh around the flower. These flowers are beautiful even when out of focus.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-40

The woodland flowers felt as if they were at their peak. Elsewhere yellow archangel spread amongst bluebells.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-14

The details of a wood at this time of year are incredible. If you look closely it’s not just the bluebells that will attract you, the fronds of bracken unfurling are worth investigating. These primitive plants reproduce through spores and pre-date flowering plants like bluebells by millions of years. It’s a tough plant and can be a bit invasive. Oliver Rackham reckoned it was the most common plant across the whole of the UK.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-99

People often say they spend a lot of time trying to remove pendulous sedge from their gardens. It gets around. It’s actually a resident of ancient woodland and can be found in the wood. I passed this community of sedges on my way out as a few bands of sunlight broke through the clouds and lit their drooping seedheads.

Shelleys - 26-4-2019 djg-110

That light broke free as I made my way out again, illuminating bluebells either side of tree trunks. It was a reward for gambling on a grey sky.

View my Wealden archive

1 Comment

Storrington, The South Downs, April 2019

A recent walk along the the South Downs on a hazy day with hawthorns. They tough it out in some of the most intensively managed landscapes the UK has to offer.

A hawthorn stands alone, overlooking the folding Downs as they run deeper into West Sussex.

This hawthorn faces out over the Arun Valley towards Pulborough. The Low Weald is hidden by mist in the north.

Along the South Downs Way the trees show signs of pathway lopping, or an extreme politeness to the thousands of users of the National Trail.

A hawthorn obscuring a village built along spring-lines. The Arun snakes away in the background.

 

A tanker sits in an open field. I think that’s a hawthorn splodged against the South Downs Way towards Amberley.

Chantry Hill - 7-4-2019 djg-31

A monoculture of wheat (I think) with a single oak on the horizon. Wheat has been grown in the South Downs for thousands of years. It has only become mechanised and intensified in the past 100 years. We may idealise the days of horse and plough in the South Downs but it was a harsh and unforgiving existence. Few people could cope with it today. There were also fewer people to feed.

There was a single break of light over the Downs. The hazy nature of the day makes the photo look like a painting. My friend said it was good that the simple things matter to me, which apparently wasn’t an insult. I agree.

 

 

 

Leave a comment

The Sussex Weald, March 2019

My time in the woods has thinned. Just like the seasoned photographers in magazines tell you, planning your time is key to getting the photos you most enjoy. It also becomes dependent on weather forecasts. A few years ago a friend of mine was leading me around his favourite sites in the Czech Republic and he made a point I haven’t forgotten. Nothing matters more with photography than light. You could have the most amazing scene in front of you, but light is everything. It adds contrast, shadow and colour. It makes you feel good.

Bearing that in mind, I had a few hours in the afternoon before the sun went down to visit an ancient coppice woodland in the Sussex Weald. The Weald is a chunk of southern England that runs from the Hampshire border of West Sussex all the way to Kent in the east. It was once an ‘impenetrable forest’ but now is a large mosaic of oak-dominant woodland with a Conservation Board to protect it. Coppicing is the practice of cutting trees low to the ground to harvest the materials for wood products. It’s effectively farming the woods. Our ancestors have been doing it for thousands of years. Even beavers do it.

It produced the multi-stemmed trees see above and allows light to enter in, often resulting in a profusion of flowers indicative of a woodland that has remained there for over 400 years. March-May is the time when these flowers arrive, benefiting from the fact the canopy is still open. Wood anemones are the first of this swathe.

Like many people before (and after) me, I fell for this small white flower when I learned of its charming lifestyle. The petals close when the sun is gone and they are punished for this delicateness. It takes about 100 years to spread 2 metres across the ground. In the past it has been my job to try and protect wood anemones from trampling. I agonised over it.

Wood anemone is a member of the buttercup family. The similarity to buttercups is in the number of petals, the leaves and the reproductive parts of the flowers (the stamens and anthers) that protrude from the centre. At this time of year in continental Europe purple anemones push through crusts of snow that we don’t really have in the UK. Our friends in Europe have wood anemones, also.

Bluebells and anemones can create beautiful spreads of flowers in woods. But they don’t always make the photos you want. Anemones look wonderful with a bit of early morning or evening light passing through their petals. I went with that thought in mind to see the Sussex anemones.

This is a special time – perhaps the best in the year? – when winter has been overcome and the promise of longer days, of warmth and green is on the cusp. It could also be a genetic memory we have from our ancestors who found winter to be more uniformly cruel than we experience today.

It’s really important for me that photographing any wildlife does not add to disturbance. With woodland flowers it means taking photos from the path or sparse areas. I’ve already said how long it takes them to travel. The photo above may reinforce that: a vulnerable, delicate flower isolated in a darkening wood.

You sometimes find a single flower left over from a trampled population, like a single cottage left from an abandoned village.

Everywhere in wild corners of the UK ther are signs of a micro-shift in a season. The wood anemones hold the floor today, but the first bluebells are unfurling. In this old coppiced wood the bluebells will run rampant and the wood anemones will be squeezed. It’s just the natural order of things.

For now the windflowers, as they were once known, break out from beds of dead bracken in still leafless woods.

1 Comment

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-21

On Saturday 23rd March 2019 I attended the People’s Vote march in central London. The march was attended by over 1,000,000 people, the biggest ever pro-European Union march in history.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-27

The march came at a time of growing public disillusionment with the government’s handling of negotiations with the EU.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-6

A petition calling for Article 50, the mechanism that counts down to Britain leaving the EU, to be revoked had been signed by 5,000,000 people at the time of the march. The theme of ‘revoke’ rippled across placards throughout the walk.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-46

There were a lot of young people at the march, people of all ages were represented. The result of the referendum in 2016 has been a catalyst for people who were under-18 at the time to make their voices heard. The placard above gives the sense of how some young people feel about their lack of a say in the process.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-49

The catastrophic process of Britain negotiating to leave the EU has galvanised a lot of people to campaign for change but they feel that government is not listening. Despite Theresa May’s references to issues other than the referendum in that fateful TV interview, toxic party politics and the usual haze of anti-European politicians has settled over the airwaves once more. Politicians are failing young people and it will come back to haunt them in the decades to come.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-52

There is a strong sense of anger about the lies of the anti-European campaigns and also the shambolic failure of those leading the Remain campaign. People do not understand why more is not being said about illegal activity undertaken in the referendum campaign in 2016.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-50

The convergence of political and cultural messages was seen in many of the signs, like the one above which references the musical Hamilton: ‘Immigrants – we get the job done’. Politicians have failed to highlight the fundamental role that immigration has in UK society. Britain is a nation of immigrants, from the Windrush generation to the Anglo-Saxons, Romans and the first people to set foot on our wild island before it became physically separate from Europe, 10,000 years ago. Recent political events, combined with inadequate social media policing and xenophobic newspaper reporting have allowed racist, far-right voices to be heard once more.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-55

Alongside the anger was the ‘good old British wit’, with plenty of references to tea and mild disquiet: ‘I’m quite cross!’

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-59

There was colour and character to the march. It was a chance for people to express their love for the European Union creatively.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-68

This man’s hat drew a lot of attention. It is a surreal union of Theresa May and Donald Trump, with bare plastic bums at the back.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-72

This man on stilts was interacting with the crowd around him, much like many others who participated in costume.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-1

In terms of creativity, few creations drew more attention and phone pics than this group.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-9

What I felt most encouraged by was the sheer diversity and age range of people. This whole issue has affected everyone. What is encouraging is that young people, even children as small as those seen here, are aware of the issues and wanted to take part. The fact they could do so in comfort gives a sense of a movement that is open and good, the anger measured and directed in peaceable and often witty terms.

Peoples Vote march - 23-3-2019 djg-15

In 2016 my main motivation for our continued EU membership was the role it has played in protecting our wildlife, especially in banning bee-killing pesticides. This was done against the wishes of our own government initially, but who have now accepted the need to do so. During the march this bee rested on my friends hand to get some warmth. When the time was right, off she went out over the heads of the many thousands around us who had gathered to make their voices heard.

 

Leave a comment

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-23

March is an odd month in British woods. There is the tantalising sense of spring arriving but winter’s dankness holds fast. Though we learn to see seasons a bit like buses coming and going, I see them as more incremental. There are pointers to change every single day. It’s something I picked up through wildlife surveys, seeing the return of migrant birds, the first bees and leafing oaks. In January it’s the barking fox as mating begins, in February (or sometimes earlier) bluebells and elders leafing, in March it feels like something has to give.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-20

I go to the woods to take photos now more than to simply look for wildlife or listen, so there has to be some reason for taking out a heavy bag full of equipment. When I know there is a good amount of time to take photos I bring two cameras, almost always a macro and a wide angle lens, with a standard 50mm lens stowed away. If I’m feeling super strong I bring a telephoto lens (not a massive one) in case of some lucky encounter with a raptor perhaps.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-16

On dull days the light feels glowering and like nothing is responding. I usually turn to trees at this time to slow my impatience. Here I went looking for mushrooms with the hope of some spring glut. It wasn’t there. Pathetically, the disappointment is real. The first queen bumblebees are symptomatic of the need to survive, winter is not over for them until they have found a spot to start their nest.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-2

There is a lot to be said for taking the time to look at details. Turkey tail is a fungus that lingers all year and can be found in hypnotic shades and patterns on pieces of dead wood. It’s renowned for its medicinal benefits but I’ve never tried it. I’ll stick to camomile and honey.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-10

In the UK (and perhaps the Northern Hemisphere?) a mushroom called glistening inkcap bursts from the moss and soil after a change in the weather. It usually makes an appearance when a spell of rain has finished and the temperature is a little higher than it has been.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-15

Moss is one of the few colours found in a winter wood and its ability to hold dampness can sometimes boost the growth of a mushroom, as seen in the inkcap photo. Up close these primitive plants are like miniature palm trees.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-31

In the South Downs National Park, 10.5% of the landscape is covered by ancient woodland according to the Woodland Trust. That figure astonishes me. Much of this woodland is in the Low Weald, a stretch of ancient oak woodland that pitter patters between the South and North Downs. from near the Sussex-Hampshire border all the Way to Kent. Ebernoe Common is a National Nature Reserve managed by Sussex Wildlife Trust, home to almost every species of British bat and an amazing array of other species.

Ebernoe - 22-3-2019 djg-24

Ebernoe also hosts populations of wild daffodil, much smaller than the shop-bought beasts that burst from lawns and roadsides. This is a spring woodland flower that indicates ancientness. It is a privilege to see them in flower, especially considering that they have declined greatly in the past century. In the still wintry Weald, spring is trumpeting silent and yellow.

Ebernoe Common, West Sussex, March 2019

See my Wealden archive

 

4 Comments